Pulp Fiction Mini Review (HK - BD)
Can't wait for an official UK Blu-ray Disc? Chris checks out one of the alternatives...
Ah, Pulp Fiction... Where would I be without this film? Well, probably not writing this review for DVDActive for a start. Pulp Fiction is one of a number of features that had an enduring effect on me, more so than many of the other films I now call my favourites. It was the one with the non sequitur, interconnected vignettes and impossibly cool monologues that my friends and I were far too geeky to successfully emulate (but we tried anyway). It was the topic of pretentious drunken discussions at the pub and the inspiration for last-minute trips to the cinema to catch the late-night showing of anything even remotely connected to Tarantino. To cut a long story short, it was a big part of my life at a time when I was still finding my feet as a young adult, and that sort of thing stays with you. Along with films like Trainspotting and Taranino’s own Reservoir Dogs it ensured that I’d continue to watch films critically rather than passively for the rest of my life, even if that’s actually a mixed blessing at times. As a convert to high-definition I got fed up of waiting for the worldwide release of the Blu-ray, so I decided to take a chance on the Hong Kong import. This being a mini review I'm not going to drone on about the film itself—I'm sure you know all about that—but rather get right to the technical appraisal.
This Hong Kong release of Pulp Fiction arrives with a 2.35:1 widescreen transfer (1080/24p AVC) that is a major leap forward from the standard definition releases in the quality stakes. Detail is simply way beyond any DVD release in both close-ups and wider shots, although the anamorphic photography does make for quite a soft image and there are numerous instances where the edges of the frame are out of focus. Colour rendition is generally very pleasing and remains true to the original, at least if my memory serves me. The warm red glow of Marcellus Wallace’s club has certainly never looked more inviting, while the bright colours of Jack Rabbit Slim’s really pop. Skin tones are also very natural and black levels are solid, although contrast appears to run a little hot. I’m not entirely sure if that is a result of the original cinematography or the transfer to Blu-ray though.
On the negative side I did spot some fairly obvious edge enhancement in a number of scenes. It’s not the sort of terribly egregious haloing that mars some releases and it’s certainly better than the DVDs, but it's there all the same. It was particularly obvious during the scene when Jules and Vincent are in the elevator at the beginning of the film, when Vincent is talking to his dealer Lance and when Captain Koons visits a young Butch. I also think that at least some moderate filtering has been applied, but it’s not anything that makes the characters appear terribly waxy and light grain is present throughout. Other than those minor issues there’s not a whole amount to complain about. Will the forthcoming US/UK releases improve upon this transfer? I certainly hope so, but if not at least we’ll still have a decent looking disc.
Panorama’s edition of Pulp Fiction is furnished with both DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 and Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtracks in English. Prior to receiving the disc I had read reports that it was possibly a port of the French release. I had also read a solitary claim that the French disc had pitch issues caused by taking a soundtrack mastered for a PAL DVD release and time-stretching it to fit the longer running time of the Blu-ray. However, the majority of people seemed to think that this was a spurious claim, so I went ahead and ordered it anyway. While I don’t have the French disc to hand for comparison purposes I am sorry to say that the Panorama disc does indeed seem to suffer from pitch-shift issues. I have a reasonably good ear for such things, especially when I'm familiar with a piece of music, and I noticed almost immediately that something was off. To test my theory I compared various musical cues from the Blu-ray to the region one DVD release, which runs at the correct pitch. There was a noticeable difference between the two, with the BD sounding too ‘fast’ by comparison. It was particularly obvious with the track ‘Misirlou’, but noticeable with pretty much every piece of music. You might wonder why I’m making such a big deal about clarifying this, but you’d be surprised by the number of times this topic has come up in various forums and I want to set the record straight once and for all. It didn't completely ruin the film for me, but it was a distraction and something that simply should not have occurred in the first place. Anyway, let’s move on.
Pulp Fiction is a dialogue-driven affair and as such I’m happy to report that it comes across clearly throughout the entirety of the running time. There were never any moments where I struggled, even momentarily, to hear the actors’ lines. Dialogue aside the track isn’t the most active or dynamic one out there, as aside from a few key sequences there’s not a lot of discrete action and the rears seldom get a look in beyond the music (more of which later). There are few ambient effects, although I did hear crickets chirping as Vincent approached Mia Wallace’s house and there’s some gentle applause rippling round Jack Rabbit Slim’s. There’s not a lot in the way of bass either, although to be fair there’s not a lot of call for it in a film like Pulp Fiction.
One of the hallmarks of Tarantino’s films is the impeccable use of music from a wide variety of genres. For me certain songs are indelibly linked to scenes from his movies and nowhere is this truer than with Pulp Fiction. Whenever I hear a song like Al Green’s ‘Let’s Stay Together’ I can’t help but conjure up images of a dimly-lit club and the back Marcellus Wallace’s neck, ‘Son of a Preacher Man’ will forever remind me of Uma Thurman with that haircut, and I still rate the opening mix of ‘Misirlou’ and ‘Jungle Boogie’ as one of the most memorable musical combinations of all time. While the songs all sound great, the aforementioned elevation in pitch did spoil my enjoyment to some degree. If nothing else I hope this is the one area in which future releases improve things, but I guess time will tell.
Unfortunately for fans of bonus material this is a bare-bones release. It's not an ideal situation, but surely there can only be about three people who don't already own one of the feature-laden DVD releases?
Although not strictly a bonus feature this seems as good a place as any to mention the packaging. The disc comes in a standard slim Blu-ray case with an accompanying slipcover, but the quality of the photo on the front is so poor it actually made me think I'd been sent a pirated copy! It actually looks like a highly compressed, low-res jpeg printed with a laser printer! I was very surprised, because other Panorama releases have featured very nice artwork.
Sixteen years after its original theatrical release Pulp Fiction is still a great movie and I'd like to be able to report that this Blu-ray is a resounding success, but unfortunately there are a couple of niggles that prevent me from doing so. Firstly, there is no bonus material to speak of, which is a bit of a problem considering the relatively high price of the disc. Secondly, and far more damaging in my eyes, the needless pitch increase causes everything to sound a little 'off'. It might not be a big deal if you're not particularly sensitive to such things, but it was a real problem for me. Thankfully the strong visuals go some way towards redressing the balance.
As an alternative to this release you might want to investigate the Polish Blu-ray, which appears to have a similar visual transfer to this one (albeit slightly contrast boosted) and reportedly doesn't suffer from pitch issues. I say reportedly, because numerous people claimed that this release was fine so... Me, I'm going to resist the urge to import yet another copy and wait for an official UK release. On balance I think that would have to be my recommendation for any casual fans of the film, but if you really can't wait to own a copy and aren't bothered about the audio issues you probably won't find a much better looking version of the film.
* Note: The images below are taken from the Blu-ray release and resized for the page. Full-resolution captures are available by clicking individual images, but due to .jpg compression they are not necessarily representative of the quality of the transfer.
Review by Chris Gould
For persons aged 18 or above only
Release Date: 9th February 2010
Disc Type: Blu-ray Disc
Audio: DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 English, Dolby Digital 5.1 English
Subtitles: Chinese, English
Easter Egg: No
Director: Quentin Tarantino
Cast: John Travolta, Samuel L. Jackson, Uma Thurman, Bruce Willis, Ving Rhames, Tim Roth, Amanda Plummer, Maria de Medeiros, Eric Stoltz, Rosanna Arquette,
Genre: Crime and Drama
Length: 154 minutes
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